Singaporeans spend $300m on glasses every year

Madam Safiah Ismail, 62, getting her eyes examined during a community event held yesterday at the Eunos Community Club, where more than 600 residents received free eye checks. ST
Madam Safiah Ismail, 62, getting her eyes examined during a community event held yesterday at the Eunos Community Club, where more than 600 residents received free eye checks. ST

Lack of outdoor activity among kids here could explain high myopia rate

Singapore, which has one of the world's highest rates of myopia, spends a staggering US$250 million (S$311.5 million) on prescription glasses every year.

The United States, on the other hand, spends US$13.4 billion, 53 times times as much, but for a population 59 times as big as Singapore's 5.4 million.

These figures were highlighted yesterday by Professor Tin Aung, deputy director of the Singapore Eye Research Institute, in a lecture to mark World Sight Day, organised by the Lions Club, one of the world's largest volunteer organisations.

Speaking at a community event in Bedok where residents were given free eye tests, Prof Aung, who is also the head of research at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), also gave a stark reminder on how myopia can lead to other health issues.

He gave the example of a patient who had to get a cornea transplant after developing an infection due to prolonged wearing of contact lenses.

The lack of outdoor activity among children here could be one reason for the high rates of myopia, he said, an increasing problem for East Asian countries.

A study published in 2008 compared myopia rates between Chinese students here, and those in Sydney, to the time they spent outdoors. The study showed that 29.1 per cent of the Singapore students had myopia, but the Sydney figure was just 3.3 per cent.

This was despite the kids in Sydney doing more near work, such as reading, as compared to the Singapore children.

The reason for the disparity?

"(Children in Sydney) spent 13.8 hours a week outdoors, and our Singapore children, only 3.1 hours outdoors," said Prof Aung.

He also talked about a study conducted on Singapore's Malay community, which found that some 50 per cent suffered from poor vision. But the study also found that many did not wear spectacles.

This is where community outreach programmes, such as the one yesterday at the Eunos Community Club, may be of benefit, said Prof Aung.

At the event, which was organised by the Lions Club and SNEC and attended by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was the guest of honour, over 600 residents received free eye checks.

For many of the residents, such as part-time retail assistant Wong Sang Liang, 57, it was their first time getting a comprehensive eye screening done.

Madam Wong said her work schedule made it hard for her to go to a polyclinic for health tests. "But this eye screening is near my house and it's free, so it is easy to just come down for a quick check."

leepearl@sph.com.sg